The Gallows Hill / Blubber Hollow neighborhood has seen its share of history over the years, but events this last week will highlight annals for decades to come.
Marijuana Dispensary Opens in Blubber Hollow
The opening of the ATG marijuana dispensary in Blubber Hollow at 50 Grove St marks the first retail marijuana shop in “dense” Greater Boston. Two other shops in western MA preceded ATG, but they are too far away from the mega-metropolis that is Boston to matter.
Worries about a traffic apocalypse overtaking Salem turned out to be, not surprisingly, much ado about nothing. The reservation system put into place kept lines short and crowds of novelty seekers never materialized. More people seemed to be walking to the pot shop than driving. The pleasant weather over the weekend helped. Media reports and official pronouncements from the City of Salem finally noted that commuter rail and bus station is walking distance away. Casual observation noted many people making that walk, tamper-proof ATG bags in hand.
ATG is likely to remain the only dispensary in Greater Boston for considerable time. Last week the Cannabis Control Commission granted final licenses to four more dispensaries, but all in the hinterlands of Massachusetts. Two even along the New York State border, closer to the Hudson Valley than to Massachusetts Bay. When all these open that’ll make eight outside the I-495 beltway, just the Blubber Hollow shop inside the ring, though population distribution of Massachusetts is close to the opposite of that ratio. It’s gonna stay busy!
Though still waiting for media reports to refer to the neighborhood as Blubber Hollow, what with them driving past the Blubber Hollow historical marker right down the street, in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot corner of Goodhue and Bridge Street
Razing of Salem Oil and Grease buildings
The ATG opening coincided with the onset of razing of the last standing factory in Blubber Hollow, the former Salem Oil and Grease factory at 60 Grove St next door to ATG.
Opened in 1912 at the site of the Trask grist mill, Salem Oil & Grease became noted the world over for supplying oil and grease products of all types to tanneries, dozens of which once filled Blubber Hollow. Not only leather oils, but automotive, engine oils and greases, as well as cod and other fish oils. To put the product mix with more erudition, lubricants and emollients of all purposes. All that was missing was a fragrant olive oil.
Salem Oil & Grease fell on hard times with the slow-motion collapse of the tannery industry in the last half of the 20th century. By the turn of the 21st century the plant was abandoned and decrepit, photographs of its ruins on many a blog and Instagram post.
After being closed and desolate for decades, the nearly eight acre property in 2011 was purchased by a consortium of property developers intending to build apartments at the sight. After much design and redesign in 2014 development plans were approved for a 141-apartment complex, provisionally named Legacy Park, to be spread among three four-story apartment buildings. Also included, a whopping, and excessive, 215 parking spaces.
Since 2014 the start-and-stop foibles that seem to afflict every development in Blubber Hollow, hell every project in Salem, held up any further action at Salem Oil & Grease. At the same time as plans were approved the original co-developer backed out, and MRM Project Management of Beverly, owner of the land, had to spend several years seeking a new developer. It didn’t help that in the interim MRM itself had to file for bankruptcy reorganization.
When things finally came together again, the project had to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for approval of minor changes to the plans. Where before the project was strictly residential, in the new version some office and retail spaces are allotted at the front along Grove Street, opening the site to diverse purposes. In Jan 2018 ZBA finally approved changes to let development proceed.
It took most of the year since to get a demolition team in line, but demolition has now started.
The North River has been covered with an expansive platform to catch debris that slips out of the jaws of the excavator.
Not too far into 2019 the remains of Salem Oil & Grease will be gone, the property vacated.
The site is enormous, comprising nearly eight acres along the North River, between Harmony Grove Road, across from the immense Harmony Grove Cemetery, and Grove Street, wrapping around the ATG marijuana shop. The planned Legacy Park project will consume only four acres, even with the abject number of parking spaces. The rest will be set as green space, for enjoyment of residents and neighbors alike. It’ll be nice to get the North River corridor cleaned up. Former homeless encampments sprinkle the site, and dumping is common. A brief perambulation this morning along the North River uncovered what could comprise a full living room set: two sofas, a clashing armchair, two bureaus, a chest and a pile of lumber that might once have been a bookcase.
The North River once was highly polluted, the jest being that the type of leather being produced upstream could be inferred by the iridescence of the water downstream. Over the past couple of decades the disgustingly polluted North River has been getting cleaned up, thanks to the efforts of the Salem Sound Coastwatch. Today a Great Blue Heron makes the North River its home base, feeding on the minnows and amphibians that have repopulated the waters, the occasional shopping cart and stuffed bear popping up in the gliding stream aside.
Now if the great bird will only stay still long enough to focus the camera, maybe its portrait will grace this blog, instead of this grainy stock image.